Life can be tough for us gals, especially when you’re on your own trying to find somewhere to live among Japan’s seemingly endless bureaucracy. So, here’s a guide to help all the single ladies find a place they can feel safe and comfortable.
Living in a share house
Share houses are a popular option for first-timers in Japan, mainly because of their lower initial move-in and monthly costs. You have a bedroom to yourself but share pretty much everything else, including the kitchen and bathroom.
Share house pros:
- Women-only options
- Potentially more sociable (if you get along!)
- More people around to ask for help and advice
- Potential for safety: You can ask someone in the share house to be your emergency contact and to be on alert if you come back unusually late
- An easy option for first accommodation in Japan, particularly as a foreigner
Share house cons:
- Can be messy
- Can feel like you don’t have your own space (not exactly an introvert’s dream)
- People might not respect your stuff (I always kept my bowls and plates in my room!)
- Can be loud
- Strangers might visit if other residents have parties or guests
- Mixed-gender share houses might feel uncomfortable
- Sometimes in inconvenient locations
Living in an apartment
Apartments in Japan, particularly in the cities, can be small and costly but allow you more freedom and independence. If you remember to prioritize your first search, you can find the perfect place and not feel the need to move around so soon, which can be costly. Especially after forking out agency fees, deposits and the customary “gift money” to a landlord, reikin or “key money.”
Apartment and private accommodation pros:
- Your space, your rules
- No weird men-folk!
- More impetus to join in the local community
- Potentially more secure: locked entrances, no parties or unknown guests
- Fewer restrictions and social pressures
Apartment and private accommodation cons:
- Potentially isolating
- Requires proactive safety measures: Buying an earthquake kit, checking emergency points, setting up an emergency contact and letting them know when you go out late
- It can be difficult to acquire as a single foreigner (regardless of gender), especially without knowing much Japanese
Choosing which floor
Although Japan is considered safe, burglaries and break-ins still happen. So as a general rule, you’ll probably feel safest above the first floor. Aside from having an interesting view on higher floors, you’ll have peace of mind knowing you’re out of sight from prying eyes or criminal minds close to the ground.
Alternatively, you can look for gated apartments or maisonettes. Gated apartments give you a bit more privacy and security with a fenced area around the lobby. Maisonettes are a bit like a small house, with an entrance and stairwell on the first floor, and are often away from main roads.
Before you commit to your new place, try spending an afternoon in the area or do some research to find out what’s around.
Things to consider about living on the first floor:
- People can see straight through your window (no strutting around naked!)
- Unless you’re prepared to dry clothes inside or at the laundromat, you’ll have to hang your delicates outside, where anyone can see them. Not a problem for some, but it causes unease for others
- Break-ins are considered easier
However, if a first-floor place is all that’s available to you, you can take precautions:
- Buying one-way screens to stick to your windows
- Drying your clothes indoors
- Learn if the apartment has shutters
Consider the entrance
There are a few different lobby formats in Japan: locked with a key, locked with a key card, locked with a passcode and not locked at all.
While, of course, your apartment will lock at the front door, you might feel more at ease knowing there’s an extra layer of security in the lobby. Check what the situation is before you commit.
You might also consider what type of doorbell and intercom system there is. If you already feel safe enough, it might not be an issue. Still, for added peace of mind, you could find out if there is a video intercom system so you can see who is at the door before you answer it. Also, make sure to check that the door chain works before you move in.
Distance from the station
While being close to the station is convenient for going out and getting to work, there’s another thing we feisty females need to think about: walking home at night.
This is often something you don’t really think about until you’re mid-walk at 11:30 pm and: What was that? Oh, just the neighbor’s cat…
So, it’s good to consider when house hunting in the first place.
Check the distance to the station. If it’s the kind of place to which you’ll mostly ride a bicycle, consider whether you’ll go out drinking often, as that will (or should) stop you from cycling back.
Also, check the lighting situation on the road to the station. You’ll feel much safer coming back from an evening out if it isn’t too dark.
Space for having friends around
As a single person of any gender living abroad, living in your own apartment might sometimes feel isolated.
To get around that, having a nice living room area or a good bedroom where you can fold away the futon for extra socializing space is excellent for inviting people over. Even just an extra air mattress is handy.
This can double as a safety measure on nights out, too—you can invite a friend to walk back with you and stay at your place, then alternate with their place the next time.
Access to activities
One perk to living alone is that you don’t have to fit your schedule around a partner! So remember to take full advantage of it. For example, meet your local community or find activities you enjoy during your time off.
Before you commit to your new place, try spending an afternoon in the area or do some research to find out what’s around. For example, where’s the nearest gym? Can you take up kickboxing? How far away is the nearest shopping mall?
It would be awful to move into your new place only to learn there’s nothing to do without taking a train ride every time you wanted to do something fun!
Let us know your experiences with house-hunting in Japan, and if you’ve got any more tips to share with gals or guys, help out the community in the comments below. Happy hunting!